What could business quality control theories and an Iowa-born statistician possibly have to do with reducing violence in one of Maine’s most dangerous prison environments?
One Maine State Prison sergeant and one scholar believe the theories may just be the key to saving lives.
Sgt. Jon-Michael Parker, of Maine State Prison, and William J. Feuss, Ph.D., president of William J. Feuss Associates LLC, delivered the keynote address at 18th Annual International Deming Research Seminar, co-sponsored by Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration (GBA) and held on Feb. 28.
Feuss. adjunct professor of marketing at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and Sgt. Parker detailed their research and front-line experience in applying W.E. Deming’s quality control principles, used throughout the business world, to create a safer environment inside the Maine State Prison.
Deming (1900-1993) was an American statistician from Iowa who pioneered quality control and management theories anchored by his System of Profound Knowledge. His key precepts included prioritizing high quality over cost-cutting and a “Plan-Study-Do-Act” process cycle.
The GBA offers a full-time MBA honors program based on Deming’s principles.
Parker discovered Deming’s work and Total Quality Management theories while serving in the U.S. Submarine Service. When he began working at Maine State Prison, Parker was shocked that his colleagues were unable to see the systemic problems that reinforced violence in the prison.
He set out to find a way fix the violence by applying Deming’s principles. Lacking formal institutional support, Parker began examining the way things worked at the prison. He discovered a lack of communication between management and front-line corrections officers, lost information, and a top-heavy management.
“This is where conflict is invited by management. When [an officer]has a confrontation with an inmate, what do you think happens? It may be a screaming match between the two of you; the inmate may remember it and wait until later on to get you,” Parker said. “And often blood is associated with this.”
“When things go wrong, and they always do, what do the officers hear? ‘How could you let this happen?’” he said.
Parker has also used Deming’s “Plan-Study-Do-Act” process to develop a best-practice procedure for cutting down an inmate who has attempted to hang himself. After conducting multiple simulations with colleagues, he discovered that the knife typically used by officers to cut down prisoners was not adequate to cut through the wet sheets inmates typically use to fashion a noose.
Excited by his team’s process improvements, Parker submitted his findings and asked the prison to implement training on the new, more effective procedures. He said he still awaits a response from prison authorities.
“Training is an area that has little appreciation and is rarely understood,” Parker said. “People need to be trained to do exactly what you’re paying them to do, and if it involves cutting a person down trying to do this to themselves, then you train them for it.”
Despite the institutional road blocks they have encountered, Parker and Feuss said they will continue to advocate within government, advocacy groups, and the media to implement significant reforms to the way the prison is run.
Though Deming’s principles were developed more than 60 years ago, Feuss said Deming’s ideas—and GBA students who know how to implement them—are desperately needed today.
“Deming’s chain reaction says that as you improve quality, costs decrease, productivity improves; then [you]capture the market with better quality and lower price, stay in business, provide jobs and more jobs. This is not the way that most American companies are managed,” Feuss said.
“We need to replace cost-slashing with a focus on quality improvement—not just to improve the quality of systems, but to improve the quality of American products and services.”